Cerros del Norte Conservation Act achieves major milestone in U.S. Senate

Senate passes measure to protect special areas as wilderness within Río Grande del Norte National Monument

TAOS, NM (April 20, 2016) – A diverse coalition applauded the U.S. Senate passage of the Cerros del Norte Conservation Act (S. 1240) today. The measure passed as part of the Energy Policy Modernization Act of 2015 (S. 2012).

The legislation would provide extra protection for special areas contained within Río Grande del Norte National Monu¬ment by designating two new wilderness areas –Cerro del Yuta and Río San Antonio. Designated by President Obama in 2013, Río Grande del Norte National Monu¬ment is supported by business owners, sportsmen, tribal leaders, local and federal elected officials, and grazing permittees. Senators Martin Heinrich and Tom Udall introduced the Cerros del Norte Conservation Act following the national monument designation to protect these wilderness areas.

“My livelihood depends on the wild places within the Río Grande del Norte National Monument,” said Nick Streit, owner of Taos Fly Shop. “Wilderness areas provide the best wildlife habitat for the numerous species that call this area home. I want to thank Senators Martin Heinrich and Tom Udall for protecting our economy, traditions, and way of life.”

The proposed wilderness areas within the national monument serve as one of the world’s great avian migratory routes. It is also home to important game species like pronghorn and elk. The legislation would also safeguard world-class recreation opportunities already enjoyed within the national monument, such as hiking, hunting, and fishing. Grazing would continue in already-existing areas and water rights would not be impacted.

“Wilderness within the Río Grande del Norte National Monument would safeguard precious water that is vital to our wellbeing,” said Ester Garcia, President of the San Antonio del Rio Colorado Land Grant in Questa. “Waters that flow to our acequias are protected by the wildest lands within the national monument. I want to thank Senators Martin Heinrich and Tom Udall for protecting our lifeblood-our water.”

Wilderness designation within the national monument will boost local businesses. One year after President Obama designated the Río Grande del Norte National Monument, there was a 40 percent increase in visitors and a 21 percent increase in the Town of Taos Lodgers’ Tax Revenue. Additionally, a recent EcoNorthwest study found that “quiet recreation” on Bureau of Land Management lands generated $173 million dollars and supported 1,712 jobs across the state.

“People come near and far for the natural beauty and outdoor recreation opportunities”, said Dan Irion, co-founder of Taos Mesa Brewing. “Local businesses depend on these visitors that support our economy. Safeguarding wilderness within the national monument will protect businesses like mine throughout the region.”

The two proposed wilderness areas in the Cerros del Norte Conservation Act will comprise 21,540 acres of the 242,500-acre national monument northwest of Taos, New Mexico.

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